Over the last few decades, the interest in hunger-artists has suffered a marked decline. While it may once have been profitable to put on great public spectacles under one’s own production, this is completely impossible today. Times really have changed.
…scorning the use of a chair he sat on the scattered straw, pale, in a black vest, with startlingly protruding ribs, now nodding politely, answering questions with a strained smile, or poking his arm through the bars so that its thinness might be felt, but repeatedly collapsing into himself, not caring about anything or anyone.
He much preferred those invigilators who sat right in front of his bars, who were not content with the dim night-light in the hall, but aimed at him the beams of electric torches that the manager had left at their disposal…What made him happiest of all was when the morning came and a lavish breakfast was brought up to them at his expense, on which they flung themselves with the healthy appetite of men who had spent an entire night without rest.
No one was capable of spending every day and every night with the hunger-artist as an invigilator without a break, and therefore no one could know from the direct evidence of his own senses whether the hunger artist had starved himself without a break, without a lapse; only the hunger-artist himself was in a position to know that, only he therefore could be the spectator completely satisfied by his own hunger.
He had never yet—that people had to concede—left his cage of his own free will. The maximum period of starvation had been set by the manager at forty days, he permitted no longer stints than that, not even in major cities, and for a very good reason. He had learned from experience that by gradually intensified publicity the interest of a city could be kept alive for forty days, but at that point the public failed, there was a perceptible drop in the level of interest.
So then on the fortieth day the door of the flower-garlanded cage was thrown open, an excited audience filled the amphitheatre, a brass band played, two doctors entered the cage to perform the necessary tests on the hunger artist, the results were relayed to the hall by means of a megaphone, and finally two young ladies, thrilled to have been chosen for the task, came to lead the hunger artist down a couple of steps to where a small table had been laid with a carefully assembled invalid meal.
Because by then the shift in taste referred to above had taken place; it was almost sudden; perhaps there were profounder reasons for it, but who cared to find them out; be it as it may, one day the pampered hunger artist saw himself abandoned by the pleasure-seeking public which now flocked to different displays.
…the hunger artist gave perfectly credible assurances that he was just as good at starving as he had ever been…he was only now finally ready to throw the world into justifiable astonishment—a claim that, in view of the temper of the times, which the hunger artist was apt in his enthusiasm to forget, raised a smile with the experts.
...the hunger artist starved himself as he had once dreamed of doing, and he succeeded quite effortlessly as he had once predicted, but no one counted the days, no one knew how great his achievement was, not even the hunger artist himself, and his heart grew heavy. And if once in a while a passer-by stopped, and mocked the old calendar and said it was a swindle, that was the most insulting lie that indifference and native malice could have come up with.
“I always wanted you to admire my starving,” said the hunger artist. “We do admire it,” said the overseer placatingly. “But you’re not to admire it,” said the hunger artist. “All right, then we don’t admire it,” said the overseer, “why should we not admire it?”